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Would a drone have found the Fullerton couple who became lost after leaving a casino?

Would a drone have found the missing Fullerton couple Paul Knutson and Dianna Bedwell?

Two weeks after Cecil “Paul” Knutson and Dianna Bedwell a Fullerton couple went missing after leaving a casino in San Diego County, they were found in a remote area of Warner Springs.  Paul had passed away and Dianna was barely hanging on to life.  They had been missing for two weeks.  They were so far off from where they should have been, it was no wonder they were not found by the traditional search methods.  Read more here.

Paul Knutson and Dianna Bedwell

Sally Estabrook

When someone in a car or even walking goes missing, you are left guessing what direction they went to and what turn they might have made.  Like in the case of Sally Estabrook, 75, who had Alzheimer’s and wandered away from the family’s camp in the Pinezanita RV Park last October.  She only had about a 30 minute start on them, but no one could find her.  Her remains were found two months later behind a house in Julian, seven miles away.  One mile past where the searchers looked.

Sally Estabrook

With Paul and Dianna, using a map it looks to me as though Paul did go the right way at first but instead of going north on 15 he went south and his cell phone pinged near Deer Springs Road.  Somewhere he turned around and started going in the opposite direction.  One wrong turn after the other took him to another road, even more remote than the last.

The couple finally stopped and pulled over.  I don’t know why.  They could have ran out of gas or they could of been so hopelessly lost they didn’t know what turn to take next.  (I have since found out that their car went off the road into a ditch and got stuck.)  It is a scary feeling to keep driving on a remote road and just hope you are heading in the direction.  Maybe, this was in Paul’s head when he kept driving.


While the searchers were searching in an area that seemed logical they would be, Paul and Dianna were sitting in a most illogical spot.  One would have anticipated they would have been.  If the searchers had had a drone, would they have been able to find Paul and Dianna?

Paul’s cell phone pinged off of Desert Springs Road.  They were suppose to be traveling 15 North.  The searchers concentrated in this area.  Some how they ended up in Warner Springs at the Los Coyotes Reservation.  42 miles from the Casino in the opposite direction.


Over the last few years drones have been controversial, because of privacy issues.  Most are complaining they evade their privacy by flying over their house.  Drones have been kinda on the cusp of the law because of the privacy issues and the public doesn’t even want the police to have them.  In some states you can’t used them at all.  In others they have not made a law one way or the other, and others only law enforcement can use them.

Drones are becoming more and more sophisticated.  There are some drones you are able to put on autopilot and they will travel a distance beyond the range of the remote control, but it is limited.   They are equipped with a “return home” mode and will return to a pre-programmed GPS destination.   It would seem to me a drone would have been the perfect tool to look for Paul and Dianna because they were likely in a remote area.


But, law enforcement has to bide by the FAA rules and couldn’t even dream of using them for finding missing people.  The FAA knew because of the drone popularity they had to get a jump start on how to handle this new technology in its airspace and in 2012 the FAA released a list of agencies that were allowed to fly drones.  San Diego County was not on that list at that time, but later that changed and received a go-ahead.

It seems like a perfect pairing for the Search and Rescue Tactical Search Unit of the  San Diego Sheriff’s office.  Right now they receive tactical training to search for the lost, use helicopters and K-9 as aides, wouldn’t a drone be a perfect compliment to help them in their search?

San Diego Drones

There is even a company in San Diego that caterers to SAR groups with their Drones.  Chad Amonn has a San Diego based start up named Inova Drone where his drones are made specifically for first responders.

“Our goal is to really save lives with this technology,” Amonn told NBC San Diego this week.

The FAA has a system in place for law enforcement to use drones and has given the authorization to law enforcement in San Diego, but they have not rushed out to buy one.  When the SDCSD was asked if they will get drones the response was they needed to discuss it.  As of this month, the San Diego County Sheriff’s office is still looking into whether they will be purchasing one or not.

After looking at the video above of what Amonn’s drones can do, I can’t understand why they are not in use by the San Diego County Sheriff’s office right now and am confused as to what they need to discuss.  It is obvious it would be an important tool for the SAR’s team.


Regardless, going back to what happened to Paul and Dianna you have to look at it candidly.  Even if the sheriff’s office had a drone would it have found Dianna and Paul?  Possible not because they were so far in another direction.  It would have taken someone looking outside the box to go to the area where they were found to look for them, and that out of the box thinking would have been what would have found them.

Drones can cover a larger area quicker than ground searchers, and the freedom of not being limited by a searchers slow progress in thick woods, may have led to the idea of going farther than where a human can go.  The drone could have been utilized to go to the opposite direction of where they were thought to be, while the ground searchers continued their search between the casino and Deer Springs Road.  The drone could have covered an area faster than a human thus allowing a wider area to be searched quicker.  And since a drone does not get tired, it could have continued to push past the limitations of the searchers, and past the limitation of the standard grid of search and the limitations of the standard 5-6 mile area of search, and possible locating Paul and Dianna.  I do believe without a doubt a drone would have found Sally.


Although this is conjecture and we will never know if the drone could have saved Dianna, Paul or even Sally, we need a drone in the hands of the Search and Rescue Team immediately for the certain and inevitable next lost person in San Diego county.

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